Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 3: An Island of Reality in an Ocean of Diarrhea

Namaste! This is my last full week in Ahmedabad. A lot of stuff has been going on in preparation for our departures to our new homes (5 days until Mumbai!), and unfortunately a lot of the fellows are getting sick. I, however, have been fine, according to our definition, which always allows room for general digestive issues and a bit of heat rash. On Tuesday, we took a day trip to Palitana, which is a major pilgrimage site for Jains. Jainism is a South Asian religion that preaches non-violence. All are vegetarian, and a Jain diet also precludes root vegetables, because in order to harvest them, you have to kill the plant. Some strict Jains wear face masks so they don't inhale microscopic organisms (and consequently kill them) and wipe the ground in front of them with a small broom so they clear the path of anything that might have a soul. Their temples are also stunningly beautiful, carved out of white marble, which brings us to this posting. We all wanted to get out of the ashram and see something else in Gujarat, so we all hopped in a minibus to travel the 200 km to get to Palitana, which is a collection of temples on top of a hill. A hill that requires you to climb 3200 steps to get to the top. I will give you a play by play of the day, because it was just too hilarious to leave out the little things. Times are approximate.

5:30 am - alarm goes off. Was planning on bucketing, but it’s too early to stand.
5:42: alarm goes off again. I should probably get dressed. It’s completely dark outside.
6:03: I go outside. Everyone makes fun of my white sneakers. I defend my choice. 3200 stairs requires more support than my flip-flops. But still, Jazzercise anyone? I kind of regret buying white shoes.
6:25: finally off. I put on Gregorian chants for awhile to fall asleep.
8:15: I wake up to find that Shaina and I are the only ones on the bus. Apparently we stopped at a rest station for some breakfast. Was anyone planning on waking us up? Breakfast consisted of a weird lentil cracker and veggie sandwiches. I don’t eat much.
10:00: Shaina asks whether or not I plan on sticking strictly to the AJWS stipend. It covers most living expenses, but that’s about it. I say that there’s no way I can, not that I plan to spend frivolously, but that part of the experience of being in India is taking advantage of it, so I will travel a lot. Also, Mumbai will be relatively expensive, and I am one for dining out every so often, as well as going to the occasional club. And no matter what, it’s cheaper than New York. She thinks there’s some value in trying to stick to the stipend in understanding how to live with the same salary as our NGO counterparts, but agrees that not going beyond the stipend would not necessarily be the best overall experience.
10:30: Shaina and I discuss our group dynamic. It has been suggested that we are not aggressive, and thus do not engage in enough high-level conversation. We decided that all of us were chosen because we’ve traveled in developing countries, and thus have a greater idea of who we are and why we would want to do something like this. Because we recognize and respect each other’s sense of self, we don’t want to risk our great support system for the sake of raising contentious issues. But Ava adds that we should probably engage more in sessions, because our discussions have been faltering.
12:00: we reach Palitana! The bathrooms the Jain people let us use were really clean.
12:15: We are told that we each need to obtain a camera permit. Individually. They cannot be purchased in bulk, and we need to sign our names. This takes a little while. Nobody ever asked to see one. 100 rupees well spent.
12:30: The adventure begins! Up the steps we go!
12:40: About 50 steps up. I begin seriously regretting my decision to try this.
12:45: Men pass and offer to carry me up to the top on a chair suspended on two poles. After several requests, I tell them that if I end up needing help, I’d ask them. In Hindi. Success!

This cow was on the way down. I was a bit jealous of her.

12:57: Sunita, being carried by the men, passes me and asks me why I’m so red. She asked if it was sunburn, I told her I just look like a tomato sometimes. The walk was clearly a strain.
1:13: drizzle. Feels kind of nice. I’m sweating profusely. Screw not being able to wear shorts and a tank top.
1:30: It starts downpouring. Like buckets of water being dumped on us. It is about 100 steps until we can get to a covered area. There is nothing to do but continue going up. I attempt to protect my camera.
1:45: still raining. Really hard. We decided to just keep walking, and now there is water streaming down the steps like they’re rocks in a cascade. The flooding has loosened the cow shit, which now streams down the steps as well. I am thankful I wore sneakers.

Shaina and I in the midst of the downpour.

1:50: We sing a song about walking through cow shit. We like how it squishes between our toes. But not really. Although she has sandals on, so maybe that's true.
2:05: The rain stops! We encounter a herd of goats. They stare at me with evil eyes. I want to take one home with me.
2:30: We’re kind of close! We sing The Little Mermaid to just push through the pain. My knees burn.
2:45: WE MADE IT. We are completely soaked. Everyone is waiting for us. I accidentally knock some cookies onto the ground.
2:55: Exploring the temples! There are countless temples on top of the mountain. They are made from intricately, exquisitely carved marble. We take lots of pictures.

Here is an example.

And another.

And Ava and I enjoying the beauty.

3:15: It starts raining again. Really hard. We take cover in a temple, but I decide I want to dance in the rain. Arielle gives me a combination to do, and as I am about to do a nice little jump, I fall. Hard. The sound scares everyone, but I feel fine and laugh hysterically, while waving at the construction workers who come to see the weird white girl.
3:45: We take a moment before we leave. It is drizzling, there is nobody there but us, and we are surrounded by 500 year old temples. We agree that this is one of the most beautiful places we have been to, and we appreciate the few seconds of peace. I am reminded of Jason Mraz's Details in the Fabric, particularly the line at the end that goes, "You are an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea."
4:15: Going down hurts too. Not as much, though.
4:26: We cannot get through, because the path is covered by about 20 cows. The cow herders, who have awesome earrings, move them along with sticks. There is a narrow opening to pass through, and I’m scared one of them will gore me. But I make it unscathed.

5:45: We get on the bus! I take off my clothes. I’ve been wet for more than 5 hours, I’m cold, and I kind of smell.
6:15: We had ordered some sandwiches from a random little store. Everyone got grilled cheese, but alas. I had toast with butter for the second time ever. Kind of liked it. I'm not sure that that's a good thing.
9:00: We're all still naked. My clothes haven't dried, and I'm sitting on my pants, which kind of smell like mold/mildew. I am not amused, but I convince everyone to watch Center Stage. And we're dancinggggg
12:00: We are sitting on the Gandhi stage eating Domino's. Their pasta is not very good. I wish I could eat cheese, for the umpteenth time since I got here.
12:30: I'm in the bucket. The water is freezing, because we don't have a heater. I am still freezing. I am angry.
12:34: I spot an ant caught in the spider web in the corner of the window in the bucket closet. The spider starts wrapping up the ant and sucking out the insides. It's like a childhood dream come true. I no longer care about the temperature of the water.

And then I went to sleep. So that's a day in the life of my adventure. All in all, that day was amazing, and every day is a roller coaster. Here are other random pictures from this week.

We went on a walk to look for people celebrating Ganpati, which honors Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. People have huge Ganesh statues that they lead to the river. Along the way, I saw this house and just liked it.

The next 3 are from our cricket match. We led our own sessions yesterday, and one of them was dedicated to learning cricket. This is Zack and I getting ready for the game. Please acknowledge the hats.

This is Jamie setting up the wicket. In cricket, a wicket is vitally important. You try to knock down the bails, or little wooden things, on top of the stumps, aka sticks. That whole set up is a wicket, and when how often they're disturbed is marked as part of the score. When you swing, you try to prevent the ball from knocking over the bails. So that's a quick cricket lesson for the day.

This is my wicked cricket stance. Not as bad ass as baseball, but it'll do. I managed to score a couple of runs, despite the fact that my pants don't bend at the knee very much and my finger was still jammed from the game of catch with the (heavy) cricket ball. Oops.

That's all for now. Off to synagogue for Kol Nidre in a bit, and that might be the end of my synagogue career in India. The lack of prayer books makes it a bit hard for me to pretend like I know what I'm doing.


  1. 3200 steps in a monsoon and feasting on a butter sandwich. Sounds like yom kippur in India (of course, the cow shit adds to the imagery). Interesting about the "nickel and dimed" conversation followed by someone being carried up the steps. Does wearing clothes in a monsoon count as some form of laundry? Thanks for more insight. Love D

  2. I have no words as I am still trying to get the image of flooding cow shit out of my mind. I will say that I know what sneakers you are talking about and they are somewhat jazzerciseish! :) Really amazing pictures too! XOXO Love you

  3. I'm laughing. I enjoyed so much, as I always do. Feel like I am right there with you, but I'll skip the flowing cow shit.

    Love you.


  4. Loved your blog and the stories about "flowing cow shit," which reminds me of my experiences in Japan. The Japanese were a lot more creative in making good use of this material....they would collect it and mix it with the human form of this stuff amd put it in barrels and parade them around town until they reached the fields where they spread them over the crops. The GIs called them "honey buckets." Now in the U.S. we have to deal with this stuff all the time except it doesn't come from cows comes from our politicians and we call it "bullshit."

    Love, Grandpa